$40 million in funding announced for natural gas, light manufacturing research

electric car

The Department of Energy will make approximately $40 million available for two new programs that will engage scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to develop technologies that shift our cars and trucks off oil. One program will develop cost effective and energy efficient manufacturing techniques to process and recycle metals that could help make lighter vehicles. The second program will develop biological technologies that will improve the conversion of natural gas to liquids for transportation fuels, designed to reduce vehicle emissions compared to conventional gasoline engines. The funding is through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program.

According to the funding list, the first program, Modern Electro/Thermochemical Advancements for Light-metal Systems (METALS) has $20 million available for scientists and companies. METALS seeks to find and develop technologies for cost-effective processing and recycling of Aluminum, Magnesium and Titanium. The program is also supporting the use of domestically available ores, and finding ways to reduce energy inputs and emissions from processing in order to make these materials cost competitive with cheaper, heavier ones. Aluminum, Magnesium and Titanium have higher strength-to-weight ratios which make them ideal as light manufacturing materials.

The Department of Energy hopes that by relying more on these materials over other heavier metals, vehicles carrying freight will also run lighter – saving on emissions and fuels. METALS will also develop technologies for rapid and efficient light metal sorting to enable domestic recycling.

The second program, Reducing Emissions using Methanotrophic Organisms for Transportation Energy (REMOTE), will develop transformational biological technologies to convert gas to liquids for transportation fuels. Using unique biological conversion methods, REMOTE will develop innovative catalysts and lab scale reactors to efficiently and cost-effectively convert natural gas. Current gas to liquids approaches are technologically complex and require large, capital-intensive facilities, which limit widespread adoption. This program aims to lower the cost of gas to liquids conversion while enabling the use of low-cost, domestically sourced natural gas for transportation, and reducing vehicle emissions compared to conventional gasoline engines.

As CivSource has reported, some states are already looking at converting fleet vehicles to natural gas or electric cars in an effort to cut costs and improve overall environmental sustainability. The technologies developed through the REMOTE program, could have the potential to accelerate that adoption and bring online other parts of the nationwide transportation system, such as it is.

ARPA-E was launched in 2009 to seek out transformational, breakthrough technologies that show fundamental technical promise but are too early for private-sector investment. Some of these projects have already triggered private sector developments.